Art and Design Museum
From March 12 to August 14, 2022
Clothing: costume as contemporary art is an ambitious exhibition that occupies two floors of the Museum of Art and Design. Curated by independent scholar Alexandra Schwartz, this exhibition is long overdue for several reasons. First, it was long delayed by the COVID-19 shutdown; second, it presents overdue research on the blurred boundaries between art, performance and fashion and includes a diverse group of artists in this discussion. While fashion and art have been symbiotic disciplines for centuries – think Schiaparelli’s Dali lobster print, Yves Saint Laurent’s Piet Mondrian and Tom Wesselmann dresses, or Dior’s recent collaboration with Judy Chicago – the niche of performative clothing as contemporary art rather than cyclical fashion has yet to receive proper attention. Schwartz has created a memorable exhibition with works that confront important global issues, including gender normativity and LGBTQ rights, police brutality and domestic violence.
The exhibition is divided into five sections, each of which can be a unique exhibition: ‘Functionality’, ‘Gender’, ‘Activism’, ‘Cultural difference’ and ‘Performance’. Each section includes a mix of household names with emerging artists. For example, the viewer encounters the large installation by Louise Bourgeois blue days (1996) when exiting the elevator on the fourth floor. Here, seven garments and a small red sphere are suspended, seeming to orbit around the axis of a central metallic infrastructure. In a typically bourgeois style, the clothes are substitutes for the female body and the domestic trauma often inflicted and carried by it. Additionally, pieces by well-known artists Beverly Semmes, Franz Erhard Walther, Sylvie Fleury and Annette Messager are hung in this section, titled “Functionality”. The inclusion of Hair (2011), a dress-like sculpture made of artificial hair extensions – a staple of today’s beauty standards – by Indian artist Vivan Sunderam, is more than a reflection on the functional; his appropriation of the material is also a commentary on India’s neoliberal economy, in which the division between rich and poor is further exacerbated. Likewise, the Brazilian artist Nazareth Pacheco Untitled (2000) is an exoskeleton of a skirt made of beaded beads with nefarious blades hanging from its hem. The artist, who underwent several medical and cosmetic surgeries to correct a congenital condition, speaks volumes about the suffering of an idealized Western beauty in this work.
Also on the fourth floor, the “Cultural Difference” section features an array of vibrant and exciting artwork. Devan Shimoyama’s floral and bejeweled sweatshirt, February II (2019) (tribute to Trayvon Martin), the “Soundsuits” of Nick Cave and the quilted cape of Sanford Biggers, Cap 3—Moonrise (Kennedy Center 04/04/19) (2019) to ghostly figure dressed in Dutch wax textile by Yinka Shonibare, The Ghost of Eliza Jumel (2015), this part of the exhibition features patterns and colors that clash dramatically, despite some of the darker themes. At Marie Sibande’s The dance domba (2019) is a spectacular installation depicting a central female figure wearing a red dress with outstretched arms. She is flanked by multi-headed and seemingly vicious dogs, leashed by what reads like veins emerging from an anatomical heart. Above, an array of brightly dressed shoulders and arms emerges from the wall. The artist based her work on a South African Tshivenda initiation ceremony in which young women transition into adulthood. As is the case with many works in this exhibition, such as blue days, The dance domba might as well sit in the “Genre” section.
On the third floor, in “Gender”, there is a balance between playfulness and solemnity, seen poignantly in Zoë Buckman’s large installation in which the artist has embroidered hip hop lyrics onto vintage lingerie. With individual titles like Bitch again, mom don’t cry and Prostitute found killed, all from 2016, the artist pays tribute to his youthful adoration for this musical genre; yet, as a female feminist, she has become more skeptical of some lyrics, which often glorify violence against women. Next to Buckman’s installation, two dresses by Esmaa Mohamoud (with technical assistance from Qendrim Hoti) combine ballroom-style hoops with basketball jersey tops, subverting the supposed black masculine masculinity of Athletic wear. These were worn by both male and female models when they debuted at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
With Raul de Nieves Celebration/Knowledge of Skin (2019) continues the aesthetic of drag with an artwork created using traditional Latin American sewing and beading techniques and can be read in conjunction with that of Hunter Reynolds. Patina of the Prey’s Drag Pose Cage (Simon Watson Gallery) (1990). Here, a blue ball gown worn by the artist hangs from the ceiling of the cage in which he once performed. Patina was Reynolds’ drag alter ego. Inspired by the genre fluidity of the club scene at the time, the performance did not translate effortlessly into the art world. Located next to the “Performance” section of the exhibition, which includes clothing, photographic documentation and projected videos, Reynolds’ work, along with many others in the exhibition, signals the interlocution of the art, performance and fashion in this rich and entertaining show. .